The Bohol provincial government is eyeing to start reopening the province’s tourist destinations to foreign and local visitors by the last quarter of this year.
Bohol Governor Arthur Yap, however, was quick to clarify that this was a “moving target,” as local officials and stakeholders are still finalizing the protocols for the resumption of their domestic tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yap said the province will adopt the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) “travel bubble” initiative in opening up its economy, starting in Panglao Island.
“Bohol will pick a foreign or domestic counterpart to establish a bilateral travel arrangement whether this be by air or sea travel,” Yap said in a forum with DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, and local government officials.
“We will first have to do our homework. We will first work with the tourism stakeholders and LGUs of Panglao Island to ensure that their employees and services are anti-COVID-compliant,” he added.
“What we want to do is at least keep our stakeholders looking at a target. Kung ‘di makaya (If we are not ready), then we’ll move it, but at least there’s a target to reopen the local economy,” he said.
Bohol was the first province to declare a lockdown and suspend travel after the a 60-year-old Chinese woman who traveled to the province last February tested positive for novel coronavirus infection and became the Philippines’ third COVID-19 case.
Yap said that at present, there are 22 active cases of COVID-19 infections and four fatalities in the province of Bohol. Panglao Island has none.
Puyat welcomed the Bohol provincial government’s plan and expressed optimism that it will be able to safely implement the tourism bubble.
“Pag iniiisip ko ngayon ‘yong tourism bubble, naiisip ko agad yong Bohol kasi magaling yong governor, mayors at congressman (When I think of tourism bubble, Bohol immediately comes to mind because the governor, mayors and congressmen are efficient). ‘Yong alam mong hindi makakalusot, very strict (That you know the virus won’t breeze through because the have very strict protocols),” she said.
The tourism secretary said Bohol may re-open anytime since it has its own international airport to accept direct flights.
“We will always respect the LGUs kung kailan kayo (whenever you are) ready. Hindi namin kayo pipiltin (We will not force you). But I am happy that you have a target. Maganda nang may target (It’s good to have a target),” she said.
Yap said consultations are ongoing among city and town mayors, as well as stakeholders in the tourism sector, such as restaurants and hotel owners.
He said the provincial tourism council has already submitted its plans and schedules on “how to build confidence for visitors and local constituents alike as we move towards reopening Bohol’s tourism.”
Under the initial plan, all establishments and destinations that wish to reopen for tourism shall be accredited not only by the DOT, but also of the Bohol provincial government.
Businesses shall secure from the government the “UBE Seal” or the “Ultimate Bohol Experience” accreditation to be able to operate. Those without the local government’s seal of approval will not be allowed to offer services to tourists, Yap said.
The requirement will take effect by virtue of an ordinance that the provincial government will soon pass.
To get an “UBE Seal,” health and environmental protocols should be complied with, including the implementation of a carrying capacity and online reservation and payments, among others.
As for the visitors, RT-PCR tests shall first be conducted upon entry to Bohol. Contact tracing cards will also be given to them.
Aside from an additional layer of protection for their people, Yap said the UBE Seal is also aimed at ensuring a sustainable tourism in the province in the long run.